firestarter | remake | keith thomas | scott teems | zac efron | ryan kiera armstrong | sydney lemmon | based on | novel | stephen king | pyrokinesis | drama | sci-fi | thriller | united states | michael greyeyes | gloria reuben | kurtwood smith | john beasley | tina jung
Director: Keith Thomas
Writer: Scott Teems
Starring: Zac Efron, Ryan Kiera Armstrong and Sydney Lemmon
This is a movie that when I heard it was being remade, I understood it. This seemed to be a popular Stephen King adaptation back at its release, but it under discussed now. I’ll be honest, it wasn’t my favorite novel from King and the movie is one that I think is okay. It explores interesting concepts though, which I can appreciate. I’ll get back into that later as they’re still relevant.
Synopsis: a young girl tries to understand how she mysteriously gained the power to set things on fire with her mind.
We start with Andy McGee (Zac Efron) who is married to Vicky (Sydney Lemmon). Together they have a daughter, Charlie. She is having trouble sleeping. This couple gets her to go down, but something doesn’t feel right to Andy. He goes into the baby’s room to find its mobile is on fire. Andy saves her before it is too late. This is a nightmare though. He gets up to find Charlie is up too. She is played by Ryan Kiera Armstrong. There is tension with the family as Vicky also gets up.
From here, we get the opening credits. I like that we are seeing older footage of when Andy and Vicky were younger. In college, they took part in an experiment. Through the videos that we are seeing, they both have psychic abilities. Neither want to talk about them, but both are quite interesting.
Back in the present, Andy uses his to help people quit smoking. Vicky refuses to use hers. Charlie is more powerful than both and her parents debate on how to manage it. Andy wants her to bury it deep. Vicky wants to train her to control it. Charlie is bullied at school so it makes it difficult. We also learn that she doesn’t have the internet. Her parents say it is due to stunting her growth mentally. Vicky reveals that they can’t afford. The truth is if they get it, they can be tracked.
The group that conducted the experiment are looking for them. It is known as The Shop. Captain Hollister (Gloria Reuben) is now in charge. Charlie has a blow up at school that alerts the police. It also puts her and her family back on this group’s radar. She seeks out the doctor in charge, Joseph Wanless (Kurtwood Smith). He regrets what he did, especially knowing what the government will do if they can capture Charlie. Capt. Hollister then seeks out the best tracker. He is retired, but she gets him to take on the job. This person is Rainbird (Michael Greyeyes) and we see that he is good at what he does. He also might be more like the McGees than they realize.
That should be enough to recap the story and introduce our characters. What I noticed upon completing this movie is that it feels like a condensed version of the novel as well as the original version. That’s not necessarily a bad thing. I know gripes with King is that he can be too wordy. I’ll even admit that I didn’t love the novel. It took me a bit longer to read than others from that era which I tended to just devour. I don’t dislike it, but its never one that I think of going back to. It is on my docket though. I will say that.
To then get into the meat of this one, I did want to bring back up something I said earlier. There is an interesting dynamic here with the government doing shady things and distrust. Now it is funny that the novel was written in 1980 and the original film was from 84. I’m guessing then some stuff about the LSD experiments and MK-Ultra was out there. This is King taking on these illegal experiments and incorporating that into the novel. Andy and Vicky in this movie have abilities before the experiment they volunteer for. There is even a bit of Scanners there. Now for this though, the parents have a child who due to her parents’ heightened abilities, makes her even stronger. What I’m saying here is that we have this fear and distrust of the government and those in power. It still works today thanks to the internet and conspiracy theories. Do I trust the government? No. I know they’d done some shady things. Remaking this makes sense since the main fear still works, probably even more so now.
Where I’ll then go would be the powers I keep referring to. I love this idea that Charlie has pyrokinesis. Its interesting that we have her as a child since King’s first novel was Carrie. This version also does things different which I can appreciate. Vicky is still alive at the start of this. Something happens to her as a catalyst. We also aren’t on the run immediately. I could be wrong on some of these things since it has been time since I’ve seen the original. This version also gives Charlie a bit more power than in the others. That makes things interesting since one of the themes previously is that she is taken advantage of due to being a child. She is naïve and that allows Rainbird to get close. We do lose that which I think is a misstep. I do think there is good and bad to be honest.
There are some bad things with this movie. The first would be the pacing. I never truly felt peril. That’s not good when you’re trying to play up the fear of the government. I was wondering if it was due to me knowing the story, but I don’t think that is it. We just go through the events without worrying. It just felt bland to me. I think part of it is that we don’t truly get that climatic battle that we got in the original. This one subverts the expectations, which I appreciate. It didn’t work as well. I also think this fails without having the tension driven by Rainbird wanting to get close to Charlie. How things play out there feel a bit empty as well. I don’t like the change. This also goes back to a gripe I brought up earlier with Charlie and her abilities. It feels that should have been reigned in a bit more.
That’s it for what I had to delve into with the story. Taking this over to the acting, I wasn’t overly impressed and we have a solid cast. Efron is flat here. I’ve seen him in things where he is good, but this performance feels empty. I will take a bit off him and say part of that is with the writing. Armstrong was good as our little girl. If there are problems there, I think it is with certain things she says. I did like seeing her dealing with the bullying which is more commentary that is relevant. I can see why this was pushed due to that and her getting ‘revenge’. It mirrors too much to school shootings. Lemmon was fine as the mother. I liked the cameo by John Beasley. Smith was solid in his role, but I wanted more. That feels wasted. I’d bet he was on set for a day and that’s all we got. An interesting performance is Greyeyes. I’m glad they cast a Native American in this role. The problem I have is that he doesn’t command the screen like George C. Scott. They also changed things so that hurts it as well since we weren’t given that scene. I’m not taking anything away from Greyeyes though, I want to confirm that. The rest of the cast was fine in rounding this out.
Now the last thing would be the filmmaking. I’ll tackle the elephant in the room, which is the CGI. I don’t have problems with it per say. I prefer when they go practical. What they did here was fine. To be honest, I was checked out by the time they got here so I won’t harp. What I did think was odd the cinematography. It felt like this movie was mostly done in soft focus. That is fine for flashbacks or dreams. I can even overlook it since Andy’s power is to manipulate you to do things you normally wouldn’t. It felt like it was overused when these cases aren’t happening, especially during the end sequence. Other than that, the soundtrack was fine without standing out or hurting the product.
In conclusion, this could have been a solid adaptation of a lesser discuss King work. I like what they did here at times. Modernizing the story is fine, especially since the elements are still relevant. Probably more so today. The acting for me was hit or miss. I feel that part of this comes down on the writing as we have a good cast of actors. I’d say the effects were about the same along with the cinematography. This isn’t a bad movie, but there were just changes and things made that don’t work as well. I can’t recommend this unless you’re a King completist.
My Rating: 5 out of 10